Thursday, July 25, 2013
Where AFC North ranks with young talent
By Jamison Hensley
On Wednesday, we looked at the top players under 25 years old in the AFC North. Today, let's see where the division teams rank in the NFL in terms of overall talent under the age of 25.
Our friends at Football Outsiders put together the list, and you'll need a subscription to view all of the rankings because it's an Insider piece. Here is how the AFC North teams fared (along with an excerpt from Football Outsiders):
3. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have the horses to hang with the top two teams (the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers) on this list. In Geno Atkins and A.J. Green, they have a one-two punch of Pro Bowlers that would be the envy of just about any team in the league. Carlos Dunlap just got a huge extension and is a credible young edge rusher. They upgraded their skill positions drastically by bringing in Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard to a unit that was already likely to get better with second-year improvements from Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.
12. Cleveland Browns: The Browns are another team that, like St. Louis, finds solace in numbers. The headliner is Joe Haden, who missed games for a PED suspension but continued to post solid numbers despite being surrounded by underwhelming talent in the secondary. More important, they are now set up with a pair of talented young pass-rushers in Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard. The last time Brandon Weeden would have qualified for this list, he threw three passes as a freshman at Oklahoma State (while backing up the immortal Zac Robinson).
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: If stock in the Pittsburgh youth were a publicly traded commodity, now would be the time to jump on it.The main pieces of the puzzle for the Steelers are All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey and wideout Antonio Brown. But the Steelers also have practically an entire young offensive line coming off injury-plagued seasons among David DeCastro, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. Even though Brown will graduate from the list next year, the Steelers have a chance to be much higher on the 2014 list based solely on talent that wasn't given a full shake in 2012.
25. Baltimore Ravens: After finally graduating Ray Rice from the list, the defending champions find themselves with a lot of could-be stars, but they haven't seen any sustained steps forward from the talent yet. On pure production, the Ravens probably deserve to be a few spots lower. But between respect for Ozzie Newsome and the fact that Baltimore has a recent record of late bloomers like Paul Kruger, the Ravens should do fine. Especially if they can turn around a few of their picks who have stagnated, like cornerback Jimmy Smith and nose tackle Terrence Cody.